Business Irish

Thursday 5 December 2019

Niall Browne broadens Dawn's horizons with beef stake

Niall Browne, Chief Executive of Dawn Meats
Niall Browne, Chief Executive of Dawn Meats

"Eat or be eaten." No wonder Dawn Meat's chief executive Niall Browne was in bullish form when he addressed an agricultural conference in September.

The Waterford man, pictured, knew that his company was on the cusp of a potentially transformative deal that would see it secure a 49pc stake in a French beef processor almost as big as his own.

Dawn Meats is owned by John and Peter Queally and Niall's father, Dan Browne. Set up at Carroll's Cross outside Kilmacthomas in 1980, the privately-owned company employs 3,300 across 12 countries in Europe, with annual sales of over €1bn.

It slaughters and processes close to 550,000 cattle annually - the equivalent to one third of Ireland's total annual kill - as well as around 800,000 sheep, making it one of the Big Three in Ireland's beef industry, along with Larry Goodman's ABP and Kepak.

Mr Browne has been on the receiving end of protests and criticism in recent weeks from farmers angry with falling returns in the beef sector.

Regardless of how much or little beef farmers are making, it is clear that Mr Browne is running a highly profitable business.

Not only has he secured contracts worth as much as €300m with bluechip clients such as McDonalds, Dawn has also sunk more than €50m into growing its business over the last five years. During that time it has hoovered up a number of plants across England and strengthened its presence in foreign markets.

He is also a believer in shorter supply chains in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. "There should only be three links in the chain - the farmer, the processor and a good customer. In this way trust and efficiency is consolidated along the supply chain, and the risk factor is reduced," he said.

So why would the €4.5bn French co-op Terrena want to sell off up to 70pc of its beef processing company, Elivia, to what is ostensibly its competitor?

Presumably it hopes that partnering up the loss-making operation with a profitable one like Dawn will see a change in fortunes for the business.

For Dawn, it's an opportunity to tap into a much bigger supply base than Ireland will ever offer.

Mr Browne may have to put up with more farmers with a propensity to take to the streets to air their grievances, but he's battle-hardy at this stage.

Less than a fortnight after arriving home from a business trip China with lots of new enquiries for more traceable beef, he may just have found the perfect match.

Irish Independent

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